THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS
WHITE MOUNTAINS and BLACK WATERS NURTURE RARE TALENT
Events in the Life of the Venerable Master Hua
From In Memory of the First Anniversary of the Nirvana of Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
(Compiled from the Venerable Master's Lectures by the Editorial Staff)
In Manchuria (northeastern China), there is a range of mountains called the Changbai (Eternally White) Mountains. They are so named that because they are covered with snow all year around. At the foot of these mountains is a county named Shuangcheng (Twin Cities), because there is one city in the eastern part of the county and one in the western part. My home was in these mountains in Manchuria. When you first enter the mountains, there is a famous mountain called Shaodazihu, which is the end of the Changbai Mountains. The end of the Changbai range falls into Shuangcheng County. That's why the county is so culturally advanced and has produced many great people. In the last hundred years, twenty or thirty great ministers and generals have come from Shuangcheng County. Cardinal Yubin was also from Shuangcheng County.
Ever since birth, I had some bad habits, such as liking to cry. When I was born, I cried for several days straight. Since people worked all day and were kept awake by my crying at night, they ended up very tired. Finally I stopped crying, probably because I was worn out after crying for so many days. Everyone else was tired too, so we all went to sleep. While we were fast asleep, a thief came and plundered our house. Basically we were a very poor family, but he stole whatever was worth any money. After that, I didn't cry anymore. Probably the reason I cried was that I was unhappy about something--that's why most children cry.
In my family, there were five boys and three girls. Since I was the youngest child, my parents loved me most and spoiled me until I became a very strange child. All day long I would just sit there. I could sit for a whole day without talking. I didn't like to talk. I preferred silence. One thing that's different about me is that I have never liked to gossip about other people. In fact, I never say anything casually. I've been that way ever since I was little. If something is not true, I will not say it. I simply cannot tell a lie.
When I was little I didn't like to be with other kids. I was a loner. I didn't like to play with the others. The only thing I knew how to do then was cry. I could cry continuously for one, two, or three days and nights. If anyone made me upset, I would cry. And when I cried, I cried as if I were ready to die. I refused to eat. I knew that if I refused to eat and cried as if I didn't want to live, my parents' hearts would soften and they would give in to me. That's how bad I was. All I knew is that I didn't want to talk, and I didn't want to play. I was a really dull kid. I didn't understand anything people said, and I never paid attention to what they did. I was totally out of it, like an idiot. How stupid was I? I remember once, before I learned to walk, I was having a crawling race with another kid. When the other kid couldn't keep up with me, he bit down on my heel. It hurt, and I cried. I should have known to retaliate, but I didn't even know enough to do that. All I could was cry. Now that I think of it, I was really stupid.
Ever since I was born, I have had a tough temper and a stubborn streak. No matter what it was, I would rather break than bend and yield a little. Being so obstinate, of course I was a real tyrant when I was little. How tyrannical was I? When I was seven or eight years old, I wanted to be the king. When all the neighborhood kids were playing together, I wanted to boss them around. They all had to take orders from me. If they didn't, I would beat them up until they gave in.
I also liked to play Robin Hood. Whenever I saw any of the kids being bullied or treated unfairly, whether it was in the front village or the back village, I would fight for justice on his behalf, not caring if I died. I considered it a great glory to give up my life for a friend. And so whenever I saw unjustice, I would go to the rescue. Even though I was on the side of justice, sometimes the kids wouldn't respect me and would fight back. Even though I was young, I was a brave fighter. At the age of ten, I would tackle twenty-year-olds, even though they were much bigger than me. Since I wasn't afraid of death, I would fight until I was bruised and bleeding and covered with wounds. I didn't care--I was simply determined to defeat my opponent. That's how stubborn I was. I was terribly rebellious and disobedient to my parents. I caused so much mischief outside that people would come to my home to complain. I gave my parents a lot of trouble.
When I was with kids of the same age as me, what did I do? I set myself up as the king. Take a look: even as a child, I had the ambition of being the king! I piled up a dirt mound and then sat on top of it--it was my throne--and told the other kids to bow to me and say "Long live your Majesty!" No one ever expected such a person as me to end up believing in the Buddha.
My home was in a poor rural village. Even though Harbin was the most culturally developed part of Manchuria, Shuangcheng County was the most developed part of Harbin, and my native town of Lalin was the most developed part of Shuangcheng County, I was still very ignorant and unlearned. My house was about a hundred paces from the nearest neighbor. It was an isolated farmer's thatched mud cottage, rather old and rundown. Growing up in this environment, I had never seen or even heard of children dying. I may have seen a child being born, but I was too young to remember. But I had never seen a dead child.
One time when I was around eleven or twelve, I was playing in a field with some other kids. We came across a child wrapped inside a straw bundle. Its eyes were closed and it wasn't breathing. This was something new to me. Thinking the child was asleep, I called to him to come play with us. The other children said, "He's dead. What are you calling him for?" Even though I was already eleven or twelve at the time, I didn't understand the meaning of death. I was too embarrassed to ask the other kids, so when I returned home I asked my mother. I told her, "Today I saw a child wrapped in straw, sleeping in the field. When I asked the other kids what was wrong with him, they said he was dead. What does that mean? Why did he have to die?" That's how ignorant I was--at eleven or twelve I didn't understand the meaning of death. From this you can see that I had very little contact with people.
My mother replied, "Everyone must die. Some die sooner than others. Some die old, others die young. When children die, people may bundle them up in straw and leave them in the fields. Some die of old age, some of disease. People die in many different ways." I thought, "If we all have to die, then what's the point of living? It's meaningless!" "Isn't there a way to escape death? What can I do to avoid dying?" I asked. I felt that dying was really pointless. My mother didn't know how to answer me.
There was a relative at our home named Lin Li, who said, "You don't want to die? That's easy enough." "How is it easy?" I asked. He said, "You have to leave home and cultivate the Way; that is the only method. Either become a Buddhist monk and practice to achieve Buddhahood, or become a Taoist and practice to achieve immortality. Then you won't die." Learning that the only way to escape death is to cultivate the Way, I asked my mother for permission to leave the home-life. She said, "Your wish to leave the home-life is a good one, and I cannot stop you. However, you should not leave home right away. When I die, you may do whatever you wish. But while I am alive, you should stay at home with me." I agreed to wait.
When I was little, I was a very unfilial child. I didn't follow the rules. I had a big temper and loved to get into fights. I always fought with children who were older than me. Before I turned twelve, I lived on fighting. If I didn't fight for a day, I would go without food that day. And I loved to eat good food. If someone had something good to eat but didn't share it with me--it didn't matter whether it was at home or outside--I would fight for my share. I was greedy; I sought for things; I selfishly thought only of benefiting myself. This continued until I turned twelve.
One day, I suddenly realized how incredibly naughty and unruly I was. It seemed pointless to be like that--so wild and rebellious. I felt sorry for being so unfilial to my parents. I also felt sorry for behaving so badly towards my friends and relatives. I felt great shame and remorse. At the age of twelve, I knew that everything I had done in the past was wrong, but that I could make a fresh start. And so I turned over a new leaf. I changed my faults and turned towards goodness, and resolved to refrain from all evil and practice all good deeds. I did not know anything about the Buddhist precepts, which "stop evil and prevent mistakes." Nevertheless, what I was doing was in accord with the precepts.
I intuitively knew that if I wanted to cultivate, I had to do many meritorious deeds to foster blessings and virtue. Otherwise, it would be easy to become possessed by a demon. If I wanted to become a better person, I had to start by being filial to my parents. Without anyone telling me to do this, I wanted to repay my parents' kindness. I made up my mind to confess my faults in front of my parents. I decided to bow to them to seek their forgiveness. The first time I bowed to my parents, they were shocked. "What are you doing?" they demanded. "It isn't New Year's or some special holiday. Why are you bowing to us?" "Father and Mother," I said, "you have raised me for twelve years. I have been most unfilial and I have given you much trouble and worry. In all these years, I have never listened to you, but have stubbornly followed my own will. I have not been a good son. From today onwards I will change my stubbornness and my bad habits. I will be filial to you from now on." My parents wept as they listened. "Please don't cry. I will bow to you in repentance every day, and I will not be so rebellious." "You don't have to bow," said my father. "It will be enough just to listen to us and do what you are told.
If you keep bowing to us, we will feel embarrassed." Even though they asked me not to bow, I was still so obstinate that no one could stop me from doing what I wanted to do. And so from that time on I bowed to my father and mother every day. After bowing to my parents for a while, it occurred to me that besides my parents, there were others in the world who were good to me. There are five main sources of kindness we should repay, namely: heaven, earth, the national leader, our parents, and our teachers. Living in this world, I am sheltered by the heavens and supported by the earth. To repay their kindness, I made three bows to heaven and three to earth. I also made three bows to the national leader to repay his kindness. In monarchic times the Chinese people considered themselves indebted to the emperor, and this idea carried into the era of the Republic. Since I was neither attending school nor cultivating the Way, I had no teacher. Yet I knew that if I wanted to leave home, I would need a teacher. If I went to school, I would also need a teacher. Therefore, with the utmost sincerity and respect, I bowed to my teacher in advance. I certainly didn't want to be unfilial to my teacher. At that time I didn't really know about heavenly lords, earthly rulers, or human leaders. But I had heard people talk about heaven, earth, the national leader, parents, and teachers being the five sources of kindness, so I bowed three times to heaven, three times to earth, three times to the national leader, three times to my father, three times to my mother, and three times to my teacher.
Can you imagine a person bowing to his teacher even before he has met him? And so after I left the home-life, I never lost my temper at those who were elder to me. Whether they were right or not, whether they were good to me or not, I never got mad at them. Yet now I must undergo this retribution: my disciples get mad at me all day long. It's gotten to the point that I have to bow to my disciples. Since I've already opened the door, in the future I will bow to any disciple who gets angry at me. There's no other way. I can't use force to oppress people. Since I lack virtue, I can only use this method of someone who has no abilities.